Movie Review: Clash of the Titans
The Charlotte Observer
A soldier armoring himself for battle in the “Clash of the Titans” remake pokes around in a box and digs out a whirring, metallic owl with bejeweled eyes. “What is this?” he asks aloud. “Just leave it,” grunts a comrade, pushing past him with spear and shield. Thus the torch is passed.
That owl came from the whimsical 1981 adventure, which ended an era. It was the last stop-motion movie by the great Ray Harryhausen, who used that technique for four decades to amuse and frighten adults and children. That film was cheesy in spots, strangely glamorous with its cast of great British stage actors playing Greek gods (Laurence Olivier, Maggie Smith) and gentle fun if not taken seriously.
The updating comes at the beginning of another era, the decade of massive 3-D effects. Though three writers have been credited with this odd revision of Greek mythology, the movie hasn’t one character or sequence more memorable than the next. It’s as violent, humorless and brutally efficient as a Stalinist purge, a juggernaut of slaughter and smashing that stuns the senses and leaves nothing behind in the memory.
“Avatar” star Sam Worthington, here using the Australian accent with which he grew up, is an ideal hero for it: stone-faced as he growls curses at the gods, wading through swordfights without a glimmer of excitement or exultation. At one point, he plummets hundreds of feet through a glass ceiling into a fire pit, gets up and dashes off without changing his expression. He knows the movie is just an enormous video game, where you kill soulless creatures to get to the next level of combat and kill more dangerous beasts.
The plot sticks fairly closely to the original. Worthington plays Perseus, son of Zeus and a mortal mother whose husband murdered her on learning of her unconscious betrayal. (Zeus had taken the form of the husband.) Rootless Perseus, a demigod who can be hurt or slain but retains miraculous powers, ends up in Argos, where Princess Andromeda (Alexa Davalos) is drawn to him.
On Olympus, however, discord arises. Zeus (Liam Neeson, looking like Aslan after electrolysis) wants heedless humans to respect the gods again and turn to them in prayer. Hades (Ralph Fiennes) says only fear will make mortals fall on their worshipful knees. He gets permission to give Argos an ultimatum: sacrifice Andromeda within 10 days, or the kraken (a squid on steroids) will arise from the depths to slay everyone.
This would be a small loss, as the populace of Argos has the collective IQ of a doorknob: Informed that the kraken is on its way, most citizens run to the waterfront to check it out. But Perseus rejects any interference from the gods. Aided by fellow demigod Io (Gemma Arterton), solemn warrior Draco (Mads Mikkelsen) and a host of disposable sidekicks, our hero sets out to slay the kraken, its underworld master and anyone on their Facebook pages.
The movie seems less like a remake than a mash-up of better films. Andromeda hangs in front of the kraken on ropes, like Fay Wray writhing before King Kong. Hades commands winged demons who look like the flying monkeys from “The Wizard of Oz.” From the Harry Potter films come Fiennes (doing a Voldemort knockoff), a surly guy named Draco and a hero who doesn’t know much about his dad and never learned the extent of his magic powers. Giant scorpions pay homage to Harryhausen himself, especially as their movements aren’t much more sophisticated than his creations from the 1970s.
That’s the final rub: The technology is sometimes eye-dazzling, sometimes clumsy. Director Louis Leterrier, fresh off the thudding 2008 version of “The Incredible Hulk,” doesn’t make much use of 3-D technology; the film was shot in 2-D, then added a third dimension after “Avatar” upped the ante. Nor does Leterrier make us believe all these fantastic beings really exist. They’re more credible than that chirping mechanical owl, of course. But after three decades, is that all audiences require?